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Reading and Performing Shakespeare's Sonnets and the Richard Plays, 2013-14

Updated on November 25, 2013

The Max Havlick School Program 2013-2014

1. Introduction

The writings of Shakespeare have arguably exerted more influence on the development of language and life than any other comparable literature in the history of modern European and American civilization.

Still today, Shakespeare provides instructive presentations that challenge us
(a) to listen to their inner voices and discussions,
(b) to learn from them a deeper understanding of human experience and spiritual potential,
(c) to enter into their ongoing conversations "by finding ourselves as readers in the text," and
(d) to use these insights as we chart the course of our lives both near at hand and for the long-term future.

We invite anyone serious about upgrading their skills in language and everyday life to join with us in this new weekday program where we will read, enjoy, and perform the writings of Shakespeare from a 21-century perspective. You are equally welcome whether you work with us via the Internet or visit us personally at our physical location in Villa Park, Illinois (Chicago west suburbs).

This essay introduces in some detail our Shakespeare study program for the year 2013-14.

Meet Shakespeare Face-to-Face

Meet William Shakespeare face-to-face on every Thurs-day
inside the Internet or Max's large li-brar-y,
where you will never find the books acting con-trar-y,

with Max and Shakespeare both fa-cil-i-tat-ing you
in learning workshop English language skills that few
adults have op-por-tu-ni-ty to learn in close review,

with Shakespeare's poetry and famous plays
en-vig-or-at-ing and in-spir-ing you
in dozens of sur-pris-ing-ly new ways

to be and do the best that you can be and do
and leave the rest for someone else to be and do.

2. Program October 2013 to January 2014

Reading Shakespeare's sonnets
(mostly written 1592 or 93 to August 1596)

[Note: All dates of Shakespeare's actual writing are problematic, because they rest on well documented speculative inferences, not on reliable factual information.]

Aside from the enormous benefits of enjoying Shakespeare's language, even as we struggle with it, we read the sonnets to develop our basic skills in reading comprehension and writing, but also to increase our general understanding of ourselves and many key aspects of human life.

To get started, search for havlick sonnet 37 to get some orientation to how one might read and adapt Shakespeare to contemporary America. Then search for havlick sonnet 18 to take an active part in our first class session discussing the well-known Sonnet 18, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day." There you will find reader notes and be challenged to express how you view the meaning of the poem. Then we give our "second thoughts" and our rewriting sonnet 18 as an American sonnet. We always want you to comment as an active participant, not pass by silently as a mere bystander.

While we think any serious adult can benefit from studying sonnets, please do not think we expect everyone to start writing sonnets, or poetry of any kind.

But nonetheless,
let me not to the marriage of true love and poetry
admit impediments!

For who will know, or ever find out, if some night, in the middle of the night, you sneak out your journal, or a simple sheet of paper, and try to write down in verse what somehow eluded you in everyday conversation the day before?

At my age, I certainly wouldn't tell on you. Whom would I tell?!

Even as we work with the sonnets, however, we already start looking ahead to the plays we will read starting in February and perform starting in June, especially anyone who wants to take part in the performances.

3. Program February to May 2014

(a) Reading Shakespeare's plays "Richard II" (1594-95)
and "Richard III" (1592-93)

Again we read to see and understand complex dimensions of human life from the "early-stage" Shakespeare (1588? to 1595) before his break-out into the "second-stage" comedies (1595-1601), and well before the "third-stage" comedies and brilliant tragedies for which we know him best (1600-1608).

This year we will read and study all aspects of Shakespeare's two Richard plays, with special focus on how we might best present these plays today, and how a modern Richard play might best succeed. For those considering an active role in performances next summer, we offer here a short introduction to the historical background.

The Richard plays in historical context (1377-1485)

The larger context concerns 108 years of English history, starting in 1377 when the long reign of King Edward III (1327-77) left his many sons and grandsons bitterly contending for the throne, and ending in 1485 when Edward's great, great, great grandson in the Lancaster line Henry Tudor defeated and killed Edward's great, great grandson in the York line King Richard III (1483-85) at the battle of Bosworth Field to became King Henry VII (1485-1509), grandfather of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603).

During the last twelve years of Elizabeth's long reign, Shakespeare wrote two sets of historical plays both dramatically popular and politically important to his London audiences.

(1) In his "first stage," before writing Richard III in 1592-93, he wrote three plays about events during the reign of King Henry VI (1422-61) that led to the "War of the Roses" (1455-85) and to the historical King Richard III (1483-85), whose death marked the end of the civil war.

(2) Then after writing Richard II in 1594-95, Shakespeare wrote three "second-stage" plays about events that followed abdication of the historical King Richard II (1399), when the reigns of King Henry IV (1399-1413) and King Henry V (1413-22) moved England ever closer toward the war that erupted a generation later.

(b) Developing and writing "Richard the Fourth,"
a new workshop venture toward a Shakespearean-
style drama with contemporary relevance

Our merely reading Shakespeare is no longer good enough for us.

How can we, as literate individuals if not as modern Western culture in general, restrict ourselves to merely recognizing Shakespeare's greatness and his literary skill, his well deserved reputation as the greatest English-language poet and dramatist of all time?

And then allowing ourselves to settle in our own literary work for anything less than the best our own "golden age" can produce?

So we organize this corollary workshop venture in conceptualizing, writing, producing, and performing Shakespearean-style drama on modern American themes, issues, and personalities.

We invite our international reading audience to participate in all aspects of this venturesome Richard the Fourth program. We welcome and encourage all points of view relevant to a reading knowledge of the two Shakespeare Richard plays.

To us that means an objective, balanced, nonpejorative discussion aware of all the vast dimensions of human experience, without moralizing, without passing judgment, without casting blame. We come to honor this new Richard, and to learn from him, but not to bury him.

For more information, please see the introductory poetic essay on HubPages, "Richard the Fourth," with a suggested first four lines of the new play.

4. Program Summer 2014

Amateur staging of the Richard plays

We start in Villa Park, Illinois, our home base in Chicago's western suburbs (DuPage County), but that, hopefully, is only the start.

Any one of thousands of people in all parts of the world already have all the talent they need to launch similar local study programs and produce similar theatrical stagings with amateur performers, if they will (a) study the plays, (b) recruit and prepare their own local talent, (c) find or develop appropriate local staging facilities for their productions, and (d) tie the work to the financial well-being of their own particular village, town, or city, and let that fact become widely known. .

Why share the concepts? Because today, in this new electronically wired generation, no one can any longer hide and hoard good new ideas for long. We have among us too many talented, technically adept, but under-employed people looking for something more useful and interesting to do!

5. Proposed long-range Shakespeare program outline

2014-15. Studying comedy and the comedic dramas of Shakespeare's "second stage" (1595-1600): Midsummer-Night's Dream, Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, Merry Wives of Windsor, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. For context, the history plays of Kings Henry IV and V, and the four very early comedies of the previous stage.

2015-16. Studying tragedy and the tragic drama of Shakespeare's "third stage" (1600-1608): Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus. For context: the "third-stage" "mirthless" comedies Measure for Measure, and All's Well That Ends Well.

2016-17. The dramatic romances, or tragi-comedies, of Shakespeare's "fourth stage" (1608-1612): Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest.


Copyright (c) October 2013 by The Max Havlick School, 16 W. Vermont St., Villa Park, Illinois 60181-1938.


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    • Max Havlick profile imageAUTHOR

      Max Havlick 

      5 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      I thank you, Kim, and thank you, Jamie, too.

      You are, you two, among the favored few

      who choose to give my work a kind review.

      What would I do without the two of you?

      I'd be another undiscovered parvenu!

      Best wishes to you both,

      from Max,

      on Tuesday, Ten two-two, two-oh-thirteen


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